7 tips for helping your child learn to wash themselves
At some point, kids just learn to bath themselves. But not all washes are as good as others! By the time they’re old enough to wash unsupervised, you want your child to know how to rinse, lather up, scrub and rinse sufficiently well to get a proper clean in. It’s one of the most fundamental acts of self-care we teach our kids, and it’s worth getting it right!
At GRASP, we’re obviously big believers in raising kids up to be independent and take ownership of their hygiene, and it’s never too soon to start teaching them. So with that said, here’s my tips for getting your kids to start washing themselves at bathtime.
1. Choose a time when they’re not too tired, not too wound up
Teaching kids anything new when they’re overtired, over-stimulated or otherwise frazzled is a non-starter. Not only will they be grumpy or irritable, but they’re also very unlikely to retain anything you teach them.
Instead, choose to give them a bath when they’re content enough - done with whatever they have been doing, but not so much that they clearly just need a meal and a sleep. This way, they’re not going to be overstimulated by the novelty of new things to do at bathtime.
2. Make it the one objective of that bathtime
Not all bathtimes are created equal! Some are for getting mud out from behind their ears, some for emotional bonding, some for playing. Trying to pack everything into each bathtime sets the bar too high, and no one of those things gets done well.
So when you’re looking to go about teaching your child to wash themselves, make it the one thing you want to get done that bathtime. Don’t sneak it into a bath when you need to just hose them down before bed, or when they’ve got so much on their mind that they’re too busy chatting away to you about the things important to them to focus on you teaching them how to scrub themselves. Choosing to give them a go of cleaning themselves when you’re done with the essentials and you still have five minutes to spare is a great idea.
3. Start with the essentials
If a child is used to being washed while they play, they’re not going to be able to wash themselves head to toe in one go. Keep the job of actually getting them clean for yourself, and that way you can just focus on teaching them the actual skills of washing.
When I say start with the essentials, I mean focus on getting them to practice the right actions and motor skills. If you load up a sponge or brush with soap, can they scrub back and forth on their arm to work up a lather? Can they squeeze excess water out of the sponge or their hair? Can they rinse themselves? These are the building blocks of washing that it’s worth focusing on first.
4. Show and tell
Okay, so the scene is set, you’ve got the bubbles at the ready. Now it’s time to… teach them how to wash themselves. Don’t panic: the mechanics of this are straightforward. Literally just go about cleaning them as you would, expect that at each stage, just ask them to have a go. “This is how we clean under our arms, now you have a go”. Learning from your example and being hands-on at each step is the easiest way for children to understand what it looks like to get the cleaning done. Plus, leave plenty of opportunity for them to explore too, for example scrubbing in circles rather than back and forth, or using different sides of the sponge. It all helps them work out what they’re doing..
5. Give them the right tools for the job
Bath toys have proliferated in recent years, from flashing lights to sprinklers, to arts and crafts for the bath… the same cannot be said for washing tools. You want something that, firstly, fits into little hands comfortably - many cloths are just too big for kids to use effectively. Sponges are better for gripping, but can get mouldy pretty quickly and it’s recommended you replace them every 6-8 weeks - creating a lot of waste.
We created Pebbl for exactly this reason: to help learn to wash themselves. We designed it to fit in little and big hands with equal ease, and its mould-resistant material means it can comfortably sit in your bathroom wash after wash without getting nasty. It helps that you can use it to teach your kids to dispense and disperse the soap all from one place too!
6. Celebrate each step forward
When they’re learning to do it for themselves, children don’t automatically know when they’ve got it right. Be sure to really encourage them with your words or clapping when they get the hang of holding the sponge or brush right, when they get a lather on, when they scrub properly. This gives them something to build on for the next thing they try!
7. Remember it’s a gradual process
It’s going to take many bath times and many practices for kids to be able to do the whole process of washing themselves alone. Rather than rushing to the finish line, rest easy in the knowledge that you’re teaching them something valuable while still holding onto the responsibility of getting them clean. In the same way dentists recommend you physically help clean a child’s teeth til they’re 7-8, don’t try to delegate washing them too early. Doing so is likely to frustrate you, leave your child insufficiently cleaned, or get them down about not getting this right. It’s just not worth it!
By celebrating each ‘win’, by talking to them lots through the process, you’re helping your child take ownership of their hygiene. Making it a routine thing and equipping them properly will help them grow into getting the job done for themselves. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s so worth it to help raise them to be confident in taking care of themselves. I’d go as far as to say it has knock on effects for how they care for themselves in other areas of life!
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